Is your little one is practicing cartwheels, trying on leotards and dreaming of Olympic Gold? If so, gymnast Nastia Liukin has some advice for you.
The five-time Olympic medalist is in London for the 2012 Summer Games as a spectator, fan and expert. Liukin, who has partnered with Fisher-Price to promote their new interactive Fantastic Gymnastics Dora doll, has made it her mission to help inspire youngsters to achieve their athletic goals.
It all starts with the child, but parents play an important role in the lives of their budding young Olympic hopefuls.
Liukin, 22, shares her top five pieces of advice for parents of young athletes with PEOPLE.
1. Encourage your child to dream big
“I’ve always been a true believer in setting goals and dreaming big, and it’s never too early,” says Liukin. “So many little girls and boys are going to be watching the Olympics this summer and if parents see a spark of curiosity, they should definitely encourage it.”
2. Help your little one stay focused — in a fun way
“I always give the advice of keeping a vision board with images of your current goals,” says Liukin, who created her own board with pictures of the medals being awarded at the Beijing Olympics when she was competing. She ultimately won five medals. “This is something that I always did because having that visual helped me to stay focused on what I wanted to accomplish.”
3. Set short and long-term goals
“Always set goals for [kids],” says Liukin. “Daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. You should always be striving to achieve something to feel accomplished. And it’s so important to always finish what you started. Success doesn’t happen overnight and you have to work hard for it every single day.”
4. Help your child balance sports with an outside life
“My parents always cared more about the person I would grow to be, rather than what I would accomplish as a professional gymnast,” says Liukin, who says it was tricky to make sure she maintained a social life outside the gym.
“I remember that there were times when my friends would go places or do things and I didn’t because I had training the next day at 8 a.m. For so many people, competing at the Olympics is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so you must take every chance you get to give it your best effort. That being said, on the weekends, I did make sure to set aside the time to hang out with friends and do things outside of gymnastics.”
5. Make sure it’s your child — and not you — who really wants to be a gymnast (or a pole vaulter, runner, swimmer or any kind of athlete)
“It’s so important to make sure that your daughter or son has a passion for the sport, whether it’s gymnastics or a different sport,” she says.
“Sometimes you see the parents wanting their children to become Olympic champions more than the actual child. That’s when it becomes an issue, and unfortunately you probably won’t be successful. It [won't work] if the kid doesn’t want to be doing it. The number one thing a parent can do is to be supportive, encouraging and loving to their child.”
– Marla Lehner